LVIV, Ukraine — Russia widened its offensive in Ukraine on Friday, striking airfields in the west and a major industrial city in the east, while the huge armored column that had been stalled for over a week outside Kyiv was on the move again, spreading out into forests and towns near the capital.
On the economic and political front, the U.S. and its allies moved to further isolate and sanction Russia by revoking its most favored trading status, while on the ground, the Kremlin’s forces appeared to be trying to regroup and regain momentum after encountering heavier losses and stiffer resistance than anticipated.
“It’s ugly already, but it’s going to get worse,” said Nick Reynolds, a land warfare analyst at Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank.
With the invasion in its 16th day, Russian President Vladimir Putin said there had been “certain positive developments” in Russia-Ukraine talks, but gave no details.
For his part, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Ukrainian forces had “reached a strategic turning point,” though he did not elaborate.
“It’s impossible to say how many days we will still need to free our land, but it is possible to say that we will do it,” he said via video from Kyiv.
He also said authorities were working on establishing 12 humanitarian corridors and trying to ensure food, medicine, and other basics get to people across the country. Thousands of civilians and soldiers on both sides are believed to have been killed in the invasion.
So far, the Russians have made the biggest advances on cities in the east and south — including in Mariupol, the heavily bombarded seaport where civilians scrounged for food and fuel amid a harrowing 10-day-old siege — while struggling in the north and around Kyiv.
On Friday, they continued to launch airstrikes in urban areas such as Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Mariupol, while also pounding targets away from the main battle zones.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said Russia used high-precision long-range weapons to put military airfields in Lutsk and Ivano-Frankivsk in the west “out of action.”
YouTube Blocks Russian Channels
BOSTON — YouTube announced Friday that it has begun blocking access globally to channels associated with Russian state-funded media. It had previously blocked them — specifically RT and Sputnik — across Europe.
YouTube, which is owned by Google, announced the move in a Twitter post and said that while the change is effective immediately, “we expect our systems to take time to ramp up.”
YouTube also said it was now removing content about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that violates its policy that “minimizes or trivializes well-documented violent events.” The Kremlin refers to the invasion as a “special military operation” and not a war.
YouTube previously paused YouTube ads in Russia. Now, it is extending that to all the ways it makes money on the platform in Russia.
UN: Credible Reports Russia Uses Cluster Munitions
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations human rights office has received “credible reports” that Russian forces are using cluster munitions in Ukraine, including in populated areas which is prohibited under international humanitarian law, the U.N. political chief said Friday.
Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo told a U.N. Security Council meeting that residential areas and civilian infrastructure are being shelled in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv and “the utter devastation being visited on these cities is horrific.”
Most of the civilian casualties recorded by the U.N. human rights office — 564 killed and 982 injured as of Thursday — “have been caused by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” she said.
“Indiscriminate attacks, including those using cluster munitions, which are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction, are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” DiCarlo said. “Directing attacks against civilian and civilian objects, as well as so-called area bombardment in towns and villages, are also prohibited under international law and may amount to war crimes.”
As of Thursday the U.N. World Health Organization has verified 26 attacks on health facilities, health workers, and ambulances, including the bombing of the Mariupol maternity hospital, which caused 12 deaths and 34 injuries, DiCarlo said.
All alleged violations of international humanitarian law must be investigated and those found responsible must be held accountable, she said.
DiCarlo stressed that “the need for negotiations to stop the war in Ukraine could not be more urgent.”
International Court Opens War Crimes Online Portal
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has opened an online portal to gather evidence of war crimes in Ukraine, as he renewed his call to combatants to abide by the laws of war.
Prosecutor Karim Khan said in a written statement Friday that he is “closely following the deeply troubling developments in hostilities.” There have been reports in recent days of Russian strikes on civilian infrastructure in Ukrainian towns and cities, including the deadly strike on a maternity hospital in Mariupol earlier this week.
Khan notes in a written statement that “if attacks are intentionally directed against the civilian population: that is a crime. If attacks are intentionally directed against civilian objects: that is a crime. I strongly urge parties to the conflict to avoid the use of heavy explosive weapons in populated areas.” He says there is no legal justification or excuse “for attacks which are indiscriminate, or which are disproportionate in their effects on the civilian population.”
Khan also said that two more of the global court’s member states, Japan and North Macedonia, have formally requested him to investigate in Ukraine, bringing the number of so-called state party referrals to 41.
The information will bolster evidence gathered by an investigative team Khan sent to the region last week to begin gathering evidence.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine is an ICC member state, but Kyiv has recognized the court’s jurisdiction, allowing Khan to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
Bomb Threat Forces Air Serbia Flight to Turn Back
BELGRADE, Serbia — A flight from Belgrade to Moscow was reverted and evacuated following a bomb alert, Serbian police said Friday.
The Belgrade airport received an email saying that an explosive device has been planted on the Air Serbia flight to Moscow, police said in an email.
The plane was then turned back shortly after take-off, and is being checked by police, the statement said. No other details were immediately available.
Serbian media said there were more than 200 passengers and crew on the plane.
Air Serbia carrier is the only one in Europe that still flies to and from Russia as Serbia has refused to join Western sanctions against its traditional ally over Ukraine.
Air Serbia has increased the number of flights to Russia amid high demand.
Greek Orthodox Church Offers Housing for Refugees
ATHENS, Greece — The leader of Greece’s Orthodox Church has contacted the Orthodox Church of Ukraine to offer support in housing refugees fleeing the war-torn country.
Archbishop Ieronymos, who heads the Greek church, said in a statement on Friday that he had telephoned Metropolitan Bishop Epiphanius of Kyiv, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church leader, and promised “full support” for Ukraine, adding that parishes across Greece had been sent a request to provide assistance.
Only several thousand refugees from Ukraine have traveled to Greece so far — out of the 2.5 million that have fled the country — but Greek authorities expect that number to increase in the coming weeks.
The Greek church has recognized the independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine despite strong opposition from the Russian Orthodox Church.
Turkey Evacuates Embassy In Kyiv
ISTANBUL — Turkey on Friday evacuated its embassy in Kyiv, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Tanju Bilgic said staff at the mission would move to Chernivtsi near the Romanian border for security reasons, state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
The order to leave Kyiv came as Russian forces fanned out around the city and appeared likely to step up artillery and rocket attacks. Many countries ordered diplomatic staff to leave Kyiv before Russia launched its invasion on Feb. 24.
Turkey has close ties to both Ukraine and Russia and has been seeking to mediate between its warring Black Sea neighbors.
Serbia Urged to Sanction Russia
BELGRADE, Serbia — Germany’s foreign minister has urged Serbia, which has not imposed sanctions on traditional ally Russia over the war in Ukraine, to align policies with the European Union if it wants to join the bloc.
Annalena Baerbock said Friday in Serbia’s capital Belgrade that “we all must have a clear position” over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Baerbock said, launched a “shameless campaign of destruction” that is targeting “maternity wards, schools, (people’s) homes.”
While Serbia has criticized the attack on Ukraine and voted in the United Nations for the condemnation of the attack, Belgrade has refrained from joining Western sanctions against Moscow.
Historically considered a friendly nation, Russia remains popular among the Serbs, particularly because of Moscow’s support for Serbia’s opposition to the Western-backed independence of the breakaway former Kosovo province.
Baerbock praised Serbia’s U.N. vote and the offer to host Ukrainian refugees. But she added that “joining the European Union means readiness to align with the positions of the union.”
Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said that “Serbia has a very determined and clear position” and has done “nothing that would hurt Ukraine.”
Russia Closes Access to Instagram
MOSCOW — Russia’s communications and media regulator says it’s restricting national access to Instagram because the platform is spreading “calls to commit violent acts against Russian citizens, including military personnel.”
The regulator, called Roskomnadzor, took the step Friday as Russia presses ahead with its invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier on Friday, Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, said in a statement tweeted by its spokesman Andy Stone that it had “made allowances for forms of political expression that would normally violate our rules on violent speech, such as ‘death to the Russian invaders’.”
The statement stressed that the company “still won’t allow credible calls for violence against Russian civilians.”
Czech Republic Prepares for Refugee Surge
PRAGUE — Prague City Hall has started readying temporary accommodation for a surge in refugees from Ukraine after the Czech capital ran out of housing options for them.
The government estimates that up to 200,000 refugees — 55% of them children — have arrived in the Czech Republic, a European Union and NATO member that doesn’t border Ukraine. About 25% of the refugees entering the country have gone to Prague.
Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib has asked the heads of 22 city districts to prepare at least 100 beds each in school gyms and also provide food for the refugees there.
Hrib compared the current situation in Prague to Germany facing the waves of refugees during a European migrant crisis in 2015-16.
“The difference is that Germany had months to react, we have just days,” Hrib said. “The demand for accommodation in Prague is enormous and by far surpasses what we can offer.”
Erdogan Says World Should Have Stopped Russians in Crimea
ANTALYA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested that the war in Ukraine could have been avoided had the world spoken out against Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“Would we have faced such a picture if the West, the whole world, had raised their voices?” Erdogan asked. “Those who remained silent in the face of Crimea’s invasion are now saying some things.”
Erdogan spoke Friday at a diplomacy forum near the Turkish Mediterranean city of Antalya, where the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba met a day earlier for talks facilitated by Turkey’s foreign minister.
Erdogan said Turkey would continue its efforts for peace.
Hungary Won’t Ban Russian Energy Imports
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s prime minister said Friday that sanctions imposed against Russia by the European Union would not involve a ban on imports of Russian oil and gas.
In a video on his social media channels following a meeting of EU leaders in Versailles, France, Viktor Orban said it was possible that the war in Ukraine “would drag on,” but that “the most important issue was settled in a way that was favorable to us.”
“There will be no sanctions covering oil and gas, which means that Hungary’s energy supply is guaranteed for the next period,” Orban said.
Orban, widely considered to be the Kremlin’s closest ally in the EU, has supported the bloc’s sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, Hungary’s neighbor.
But he has remained firm in insisting that the energy sector be left out of sanctions, arguing that such a move would damage EU countries more than Russia.
Last year, Hungary extended by 15 years a natural gas contract with Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom, and has entered into a 12 billion-euro ($13.6 billion) Russian build-and-finance agreement to add two nuclear reactors to Hungary’s only nuclear power plant.
Sweden Receives 4,000 Refugees a Day
STOCKHOLM — Swedish authorities estimate that about 4,000 Ukrainian refugees are arriving in Sweden every day.
Official figures say a total of 5,200 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Sweden, but the true number is “significantly higher,” Mikael Ribbenvik, head of the Swedish Migration Board, said Friday.
Anders Ygeman, the Swedish Minister for Integration and Migration, stressed that Sweden “must accept its responsibility” but insisted that other European nations also take their share of refugees.
In neighboring Denmark, authorities were preparing to receive Ukrainian refugees.
“This can be huge,” Niels Henrik Larsen, the head of the Danish Immigration Service, said. “This can be the biggest we ever have seen.”